I was 14 when North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950. As an adolescent, I was more preoccupied with puberty-related personal issues than politics. But when Canada sent military personnel as part of a UN effort, I religiously followed the battle lines. Every day the local paper’s front page reported how troops were doing, with a map showing enemy and allied movements.
Now we face an even greater challenge, but it’s not always reflected in headlines.
In October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a terrifying report on humanity’s impact on the chemistry of the atmosphere — the source of air, weather, climate and seasons. Our emissions have increased average global temperatures by at least 1 C since pre-industrial times, causing ice sheets and glaciers to melt, and wildfires, hurricanes, floods and droughts to become more widespread and intense.
At the 2015 Paris climate conference, all nations committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions so temperatures wouldn’t rise by more than 2 C by 2100. The IPCC report concluded a rise above 1.5 C will cause climate chaos. We’re on a trajectory to reach 3 C or more. The report gave a glimmer of hope that we could escape catastrophic climatic consequences by reducing emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 and completely by 2050.
The IPCC study didn’t garner the same kinds of headlines or urgent stories as the Korean War. Soon after its release, Canada legalized cannabis, which pushed everything else to the media sidelines.
Now, up to a million plant and animal species are in imminent danger of vanishing. Climate change and large-scale extinction are intimately related consequences of human activity with enormous repercussions for us, yet when Prince Harry and Meghan had a baby in May, media coverage of species extinction disappeared.
Every day, media report on Dow Jones averages, the S&P index, the value of the loonie, the price of a barrel of oil, the current status of companies like Google, Amazon, Apple, Exxon and Toyota, and celebrity and sports news.
But what about the real things that matter to us? How many tonnes of pesticides were spread around the globe or plastic into the ocean? How many species have vanished? How many plastic microbeads, hormone mimics and carcinogens have we consumed? How many hectares of land have become desert?
It’s said that Nero fiddled while Rome burned. What are we doing while the planet is burning? So blinded by our success as a species, we’re preoccupied by our own amusement, comfort, hyper-consumption, businesses and politics.
We proceed down this path at our peril.